The Detroit Free Press reports that the City of Detroit began demolition of buildings without testing for asbestos. Asbestos, a carcinogen, was used extensively as a building material and is present in many older buildings. During demolition, small particles of asbestos can become airborne unless safety precautions are followed as prescribed by federal law. According to Robert McCann, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, "The city also failed to notify the state of its demolition plans as required by federal law, which is another serious violation." In light of the serious nature of the alleged violation of state and federal asbestos laws, it is remarkable that McCann goes on to say he thinks the DNRE and the City of Detroit can work things out without penalties. His statement smacks of a double standard. If these serious violations were perpetrated by a private business, it is highly unlikely that DNRE officials would be so lenient.

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It is disturbing that Detroit City officials and its contractors would flagrantly disregard well-known environmental laws regarding the removal of asbestos. It is more disturbing that state environmental regulatory officials seem to be applying different enforcement standards to government agencies and the private sector. Environmental regulatory standards must be enforced fairly and uniformly — anything less leads to regulatory uncertainty, further reinforcing Michigan's reputation as a difficult place to do business. Let's hope McCann just misspoke.